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Saturday, March 05, 2016

RARE PHOTO: The Mynah Bird, Yorkville, Toronto ~1965

The Mynah Bird
Yorkville, Toronto

Photo by Lloyd Walton
(Click photo to enlarge)

Here's an extremely rare photo from the 1960's of the Yorkville, Toronto area, where Neil Young and others got their careers started.

The rare photo above comes from Lloyd Walton:
As an art student in Toronto I used to hang out in Yorkville but I couldn't afford cover charge for most of the places so I'd listen from the outside. The Mynah Bird was loud.

Interestingly right behind the Mynah Bird was young Ivan Reitman, budding film exec's office. He picked up my art school film for distribution.

Yorkville was Canada's Haight. The Mynah Bird was right in the centre. And most of you know the rest of the story.

Lloyd Walton
Port Carling ON
Well, in case you don't recall the rest of the story, here's a few details on The Mynah Birds, The "Super Freak" and Neil Young.

While much is known about James' "Super Freak" period, relatively little is known about the period during the 1960's when he formed a band known as the Mynah Birds with Neil Young, Goldie McJohn (later of Steppenwolf) and Bruce Palmer (later of Buffalo Springfield). The name of the band Mynah Birds was apparently a takeoff of the well known folk-rock band The Byrds.

In an interview with Neil Young in MOJO Magazine in 1995, Neil was asked about a 1965 Mynah Birds album being recorded which never was released.

    YOUNG: "Yeah, there are tapes of me and The Mynah Birds also. After I arrived in Toronto I tried to keep my band going and then tried to work with several others. But it just never worked out for me there. I could never get anything going in Toronto, never even got one gig with a band. I just couldn't break into that scene. So I moved instead towards acoustic music and immediately became very introspective and musically-inward. That's the beginning of that whole side of my music."

The origin of the band name is somewhat disputed. Some have claimed that it was a takeoff of on The Byrds. Another story goes that Rick James partnered with a Yorkville (Toronto Canada area) pet store which sold Mynah birds. As a promotion, the Mynah Birds dressed in yellow boots, black leather jackets and yellow turtlenecks as an advertisment for the pet shop. (See Toronto Star.)

From The Mynah Birds: An In Depth Exclusive

The Mynah Birds
John Goadsby (aka Goldie McJohn), Bruce Palmer, Richie Grand, Ricky James Matthews, Jimmy Livingston and Frank Iozzo (aka Frank Arnel)
February 1965
(Click photo to enlarge)

Editors Note: In honor of the 2012 Record Store Day and the vinyl release of The Mynah Birds single, we bring you an in-depth look back at The Mynah Birds.

Reduced to a footnote in Neil Young and Rick James’s careers, Toronto R&B sensation, The Mynah Birds have been overlooked in the annals of rock history. In a Thrasher's Wheat exclusive, Nick Warburton uncovers the fascinating story behind the first largely white band to sign to Motown Records. Nick Warburton is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years’ experience of writing across a wide range of topical issues and is a specialist in the field of popular music. His pioneering work on The Mynah Birds was recognised by Universal Records, which contacted him to assist with the band’s entry on its Motown 1966 Singles Boxed Set.

In 2006, Universal Music Distribution unveiled volume six of its epic Complete Motown Singles series. Like its predecessors, the five-disc package, documenting the year 1966 and containing no less than 125 tracks, had been compiled and presented with immaculate detail.

Housed in a hard back cover and adorned with a replica copy of The Four Tops’ classic “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” in the front window, the boxed set was a fitting tribute to the ground-breaking music recorded under the auspices of Motown Records during the 1960s.

However, what made the 1966 singles series stand out for many avid rock fans was the inclusion of two previously unreleased tracks by The Mynah Birds, the legendary Toronto R&B band that for a mere six weeks married the unlikely talents of future funk star, the late Rick James (or Ricky James Matthews as he was then known) and Canadian guitar legend Neil Young.

The Mynah Birds - October 1965
(Click photo to enlarge)

Scheduled for release as a single on Motown’s V.I.P. subsidiary in spring ‘66, and assigned the catalogue number 25033, the garage/folk-rock classic “It’s My Time” (allegedly one of several Rick James/Neil Young collaborations but credited to Michael Valvano, Ricky James Matthews and R Dean Taylor in the boxed set) should have been a smash single.

Driven by James’s distinctive soulful voice and Young’s ringing 12-string guitar, the infectious “It’s My Time”, coupled with the contrasting “Go On and Cry”, a soft ballad credited to James, rhythm guitarist John Taylor and Motown staff writers, Michael Valvano and R Dean Taylor, had all of the ingredients to be a hit record.

But it was withdrawn when, half way through the recording of an album with producers William “Mickey” Stevenson, Michael Valvano and R Dean Taylor at Motown’s Hitsville studio, the band imploded in spectacular fashion.

James was AWOL from the US Navy, and his surrender to the FBI put an end to any further recordings. Left to reassess their futures, Neil Young and bass player Bruce Palmer promptly relocated to Los Angeles where they founded Buffalo Springfield. For Young it was the start of an illustrious career that would lead him to superstardom and a successful solo career.

But how did an interracial Canadian R&B band come to fall under Motown’s radar in the first place, and, more importantly, what happened to the rumoured album that was shelved?

To answer these questions, we need to go back to the autumn of ‘64 and a thriving Toronto live scene, into which stepped a young man wanted by the FBI: James Ambrose Johnson Jr.

The Mynah Birds at El Patio, Toronto in Feb '66.
Photo by Toronto Telegram.
(Click photo to enlarge)

Months shy of his 17th birthday, the Buffalo native made an instant impression after being invited to sing a few songs with Klaus Karl Kassbaum’s band at the El Patio coffeehouse in Toronto’s bohemian district, Yorkville Village. The future Steppenwolf bass player, better known as Nick St Nicholas, duly hired him as singer, and, dressed in the teenager’s US naval gear, they became the aptly named Sailorboys.

Besides Rick James and Nick St Nicholas, the line up at this time also comprised lead guitarist Ian Goble and drummer Rick Cameron. One early witness to the nascent group was Bev Davies, who later ran the Cellar coffeehouse in Yorkville where she befriended struggling folkie Neil Young.

For those in the know, Bev Davies was the woman that missed out on Neil Young and Bruce Palmer’s famous road trip to Los Angeles after being promised a place in the hearse.

“I was at Ontario College of Art fall 1964 [and] “I used to go to the El Patio to see Ricky James Matthews band,” says Davies. “I think Nick had an older brother who was at art school that year. The art school had a band called ‘the art school rubber band’ and he may have been in that. There was some connection between the band sometimes called The Sailors and the art school.”

Davies remembers James strutting around the stage. “Two outstanding songs that I remember him doing were ‘Hitch Hike’ and “I Got My Mojo Working’, she adds.

Local fame soon beckoned when eccentric businessman Colin Kerr, the owner of a local nightclub called the Mynah Bird, offered his services as a manager and renamed them after his favourite pet, a minor bird called Rajah. He also insisted the musicians adopt Rajah as band mascot and dress in minor bird colours on stage!

“He had [this] one minor bird that he would leave in a cage with a tape running 24-7 saying, ‘Hello, Ed Sullivan’ because he was quite convinced that sooner or later we’d end up on his [TV] show,” remembers new drummer Richie Grand.

The Mynah Birds - "Mynah Bird Hop" 45RPM
(Click photo to enlarge)

Continued at The Mynah Birds: An In Depth Exclusive.

The Mynah Bird
Yorkville, Toronto

Photo by Lloyd Walton
(Click photo to enlarge)

Labels: ,


At 3/06/2016 07:31:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Crazy, I've been making deliveries to the gallery next door for the last 10 years and I had no idea I was that close.
I always new Neil wandered those streets, but that he and The Mynah Birds played right there...

At 4/18/2020 11:07:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

My sister Wendy had a party for her Bat Mitzvah at the Mynah Bird with Neil and the gang playing! I was 9 but I still remember the club and the band playing.


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